Work towards a new approach to law enforcement took another step forward in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles City Council officially voted to fund an Unarmed Response Pilot Program Tuesday. This program would focus on responding to non-violent emergency calls including suicide crises, mental health crises, substance abuse, behavioral distress, and welfare checks.

A total of $5,186,581 was allocated to the program by the council Tuesday, which was commended by members of the community at the meeting. While the appropriation of the funds for the program will still need to be approved by Mayor Karen Bass, the approval by the council is a significant step forward.

“My brother was stopped almost 40 years ago by a cop and it ended in his death,” one speaker said during public comment. “This is a good direction, and I am glad you are putting this into practice for the people in Los Angeles.”

“We’ve lost too many people in this city to traffic stops with armed police officers with agendas,” another speaker who identified as “Tenacity” at the meeting said. “I would like to see this program grow into something that is a part of Los Angeles.”

The program will see the city work with multiple outside providers — namely Alcott Center, Exodus Recovery, and Penny Lane Centers — for one year, allowing them to focus on particular parts of the city for more widespread coverage. 

The pilot as proposed does not cover the entirety of Los Angeles —missing areas like San Pedro and other parts of South Los Angeles — but the city is still working with the providers to finalize service boundaries to prevent overlaps. This pilot is also adding to other programs in the city like CIRCLE and LAFD’s Specialized Response Program as part of the city’s crisis response strategy.

“By having multiple crisis response programs, the City can diversify its resources and reduce the reliance on any one program,” reads a report on the pilot program from the City Administrative Office. “This can help ensure better ability to respond to a variety of crises.”

According to that report published in May, the program is expected to divert almost 25,000 calls in its currently planned one-year lifespan, which is over a quarter of the total calls the city receives in the areas that would be covered.

This number is based on call data collected from the LAPD Communications Division, which was then evaluated by several criteria to determine if the pilot would have been appropriate. The first criterion was the level of risk for violence, as the response teams from the pilot would not be appropriate for violent situations.

Secondly, the level of urgency and nature of a call was also taken into consideration. These unarmed response teams are meant for non-urgent welfare checks along with mental health crises, non-violent disputes, and similar situations. Finally, the training and experience needed from personnel to handle situations were also taken into account, according to the report, but the work isn’t done in determining exactly which calls should be sent to these teams.

“CAO will continue to work with LAPD to define the call types that are appropriate for diversion,” the report reads.

While the authorization of the program’s funding by the council was well received, there was hope from speakers at the meeting that the city could do more.

“How do we make [the] pilot program a permanent program and a fully funded program, so we don’t ever have to rely on the police that have hurt, harmed, and damaged black and brown people again?” asked Greg Akili, who is Director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute.

“Alternatives do work, the research shows it,” Kawika Smith said at the meeting. “L.A. sets a precedent, and we do a disservice when we choose not to invest into the people and trust the people.”

Image taken from the Report.

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